A stranger, hat in hand, strode through the saloon doors, pushing them open with his outstretched arm in a confident, forceful thrust. He swaggered towards the bar with the gait of someone especially and complacently appeased at the current circumstance they find themselves in. Though there were several vacant barstools on either side of him, the stranger took a seat next to a man, whom was pensively sitting at the bar nursing his half drank beer, with the odd flourish of rearranging the rear of his coat around him. Once seated and comfortable, he wordlessly motioned to the bartender with an arrogant flick of the wrist and whilst waiting to be served a beer, he examined the man sat next to him with ardent concentration only to finally proclaim “As I understand it friend, you have a bounty on your head; one recently increased thrice over nonetheless.”
The man paused the motion of raising the beer bottle to his mouth, quickly eyed the stranger in the corner of his vision, and simply replied “Is that so?”
After receiving his own beer bottle from the barmen, and placing it in front of him by his hat without so much of a wayward sip, the stranger seemed to think a moment and then recalled “I vaguely remember seeing a poster bearing your sketched likeness plastered on the inside of a train carriage and noting that it was peculiar that the reward for your capture had been increased so greatly recently despite your name not carrying any infamy ‘round those parts - what’d you do? First sleep with the Sheriff’s sister and then his daughter?” his chuckle that followed that quip was of a shrill sort, both hurried and forced.
The man said nothing, still facing forward, having not yet even acknowledged the man’s proximity to him, he put the lip of the bottle to his mouth and flicking it upwards with a sharp motion, swallowed very deliberately.
Persisting, the stranger continued “So let me ask you this pal; if the law’s put money on your head like that, how is it that you can be sitting at this bar and drinking so calmly?”
The stranger eagerly leaned in towards the man at the completion of that keenly asked inquiry as if to reassure the man that his revelation would remain a secret.
The man mulled it over for a moment, took another careful slug of his beer and finally, without warning and demonstrating surprising quickness, swiveled to face the general direction of the stranger, forcing him to lurch back from his covetous hunch. Now the man’s gaze was fixed on the window, watching the few people traversing the dusty thoroughfare outside.
“If I were the man you describe, the way I see it” curiously, he purposely stressed the next word “partner, well, that’s a twofold question; how can I be sitting here, and how can I be drinking so calmly?” without looking, he grabbed his bottle from the bartop and took another quick gulp, and then held it in his hands. “As for the former, one could surely and easily formulate, what with that new bounty having been posted and being in effect for about six months now and me sitting here without shackles, but two possibilities; either I have bested all the bounty hunters whom have come to pursue me, either through my continued successful evasion or their incapacitation or death…” another swig punctuated the dialogue “or the amount offered in the bounty was not enough to entice any headhunters to come after me.”
The queer monologue had now attracted the attention of the old barkeep, who was unconsciously leaning closer from his chair at the side of the stretch behind the bar.
“Now, we both know that fifteen hundred dollars carries allure enough for at the very least one man to answer the call and seek my trail, so that eliminates the second possibility and cements the first as the actuality.” he threw his head back once more and promptly drained the remaining beer, only to begin thoughtlessly toying with the empty glass bottle. “So, with that in mind, the answer to how I can be so calm is thus clear; I must have proved myself as more than a match for the men whom have made it their business to hunt me - so why should I be anxious?”
In emphasis of that point, the man’s head slowly turned round and their eyes locked for the first time; the man’s narrowed in fierce invitation, the strangers slightly widened in an awful surprise and apprehension. “The real issue of course, what with myself and the nature of my disposition now readily identified, is who you might happen to be.”
An ambiguous pause was presented. The stranger seemed about to speak but only said nothing after the passing of many moments.
“Though you wisely decided to cover it as best you could with the flanks of your duster, judging from the distinctive glint of that mighty fine stained crocodile skin composing your holster, you certainly ain’t from around these parts.”
The stranger’s head rose slightly at the impact of that poignant inductive logic.
“In fact, far as my reckoning stretches, there isn’t a boutique or outfitter within a hundred miles of here that sells or imports anything like that item of fancy apparel. No, I figure you must be somewhere beyond the swampland up north, which puts you no less than two-hundred and fifty miles away from this little town so decidedly devoid of quaintness and more importantly, any train station or carriage service meaning there’s not any damn reason for either a tourist or a traveler to want to appoint it a port of call.”
The man’s grip on the beer bottle tightened as he subtly steadied it in his hand, whilst the stranger’s hand began to obviously stray down towards his unfortunately so very flamboyant holster.
“So, the question finally evolves into; what could compel you to travel so very far, and on a train you say, only to now end up in a glorified backwater trading post such as this very one? A most relevant corollary would also be; could it also truly be mere coincidence that you would end up sitting next to the man whose wanted posted you’d apparently innocently memorized?”
The simmering tension that had coagulated between the two men was such that it seemed to create a nearly tangible thickening of the air.
What happened next occurred with such speed that the few onlookers whom had looked up from their poker game or pried themselves out of idle though and taken note of the increasingly icy tone of the man’s voice, prompting them to quietly watch the curious pair, could only recall a violently instantaneous blur akin to the shattering of plate glass.
The man, with the rapidness and energy of a suddenly freed coiled spring, swung his torso towards the stranger, raising his beer bottle as a cudgel. Simultaneously, the stranger, wide-eyed with fear and shock, tried to step back, grabbing towards his gun. When the beer bottle smashed across the stranger’s face it shattered with a blood-curdling dull sharp thud not unlike the stamping of a horse’s hoof against the frozen ground of a particularly cold winter. The thick shards of glass lacerated his cheek in a fashion that would later be described to the investigating deputy as ‘something fierce’, similarly, when the man ducked forward slightly to firmly yank the stranger’s legs out from underneath him and then quickly sprang back to expertly stamp his shin as he fell, propelling him down even quicker, the yokel witnesses could only surmise in their statements that ‘that there fella wrestled t’other to the ground like the pull and ferocity of a whirlwind’.
The man slickly pulled the long revolver from his own holster as the stranger had just began seething and reaching forward clutching his broken leg and nonchalantly emptied two of the cylinders into the man’s chest; the bullets impacted him with a shunting force, snapping his upper body back down to the ground and leaving him completely motionless.
Every pair of eyes in that rickety saloon were on the defiantly upright postured, smoldering man holding the gun which was emitting a slender flow of wispy gray smoke from the tip of it’s barrel.
After quickly scanning the room for any whom had drawn their own weapons in response, and finding only the pale disquiet of jolting shock and disbelief on the faces of all whom were present, he emphatically re-holstered his gun. Seemingly without much effort on his part, the man agilely avoided the scattered broken glass and stepped over the stranger’s body, making for the exit.
Twisting his body as he reached the saloon doors and coolly checking once more that no other man had rose up, he barged through the dually-gated egress and headed out towards his horse tied up outside, thinking hard on what town would be his next stopping place.